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Will Walmart embrace ugly produce?

Is a relatively perfect world ready to deal with imperfect fresh produce? Though not an age-old question to ponder, the answer may increasingly become “yes” as the gap between supply-side dynamics and consumerism grows smaller.

On July 1, the business world woke to discover that 100,000 people have signed petitions urging retail giant Walmart to sell less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables. Less-than-perfect did not mean the items lacked the nutritional staying power of their more perfect counterparts — rather that two carrots might be growing from a single carrot top, or that the rounded surface of a tomato might be marred and misshapen.Produce-with-Pesonality

The petition, which how has more than 135,000 signatures, was the brainchild of Jordan Figueiredo, a municipal recycling agent in Castro Valley, CA. In an email to theHuffington Post, Figueiredo said the number of signatures is an indicator that consumers are ready “for an ugly produce offering.”

Figueiredo plans to deliver the signed petitions to Walmart’s national headquarters in Bentonville, AR, later in July.

In essence, the issue is about the cosmetic — not nutritional — value of the fresh produce in question. Concern continues to grow that Americans are wasteful when it comes to their food. The cost to produce food that is never eaten has been pegged at $218 billion annually, according to the nonprofit organization ReFed, a collaboration of 30 business, nonprofit, foundation and government leaders committed to reducing food waste in the United States. According to ReFed, 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes uneaten. The organization’s stated goal is to reduce U.S. food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Walmart is not the only retail giant to have been approached about food waste. A separate petition challenging Whole Foods to sell ugly produce was circulated by Figueiredo and food nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, gathering 111,000 signatures. Whole Foods responded with the expansion of a pilot program in conjunction with Imperfect Produce to sell imperfect fruit. The program is a subscriber-based service in the San Francisco Bay area offering a variety of fruits and vegetables at reduced pricing due to cosmetic issues.

Raley’s and Giant Eagle have launched their own imperfect produce programs.

Interest in marketing cosmetically flawed fresh produce is not new. Last year, Church Bros. Farms featured #ImperfectVeg at its booth during the PMA Foodservice Expo in Monterey, CA. The trend has been particularly well received in the foodservice arena. “Ideally, if we are able to educate chefs on what they are receiving, the #ImperfectVeg could be more acceptable with the foodservice sector as consumers choose off a menu description; compared to at retail where shoppers buy with their eyes,” said Kori Tuggle, the company’s vice president of marketing. She said the situation as a win-win for all involved parties.

In the meantime, Figueiredo is looking for a marketplace response. “Billions of pounds of good, healthy produce goes uneaten because it’s not pretty,” he said.

 

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